x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

US to focus its military on Gulf and Asian regions

Significant military presence planned for Kuwait as US recalibrates its global military forces towards the Gulf region and Asia.

WASHINGTON //The United States is recalibrating its global military forces, placing more emphasis on the Gulf region and Asia, and planning a significant military presence in Kuwait, according to a US congressional report.

The calculations come in a study of US-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) relations by the Senate's foreign relations committee that was due to be published yesterday.

The US should seek deeper bilateral ties with the six members of the GCC, the study concludes, while encouraging stronger cooperation among GCC countries and promoting the development of the Arab League.

Military cooperation among GCC countries needs to be improved, the study recommends, on everything from missile defence to maritime security. Iraq, meanwhile, needs to be reintegrated more quickly into the Arab fold.

The study was undertaken against a backdrop of regional turmoil where the Arab Spring, Iran's nuclear ambitions and the US's withdrawal from Iraq have all contributed to a sense of uncertainty in a region the report describes as crucial to the world's economy.

"Home to more than half of the world's oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas, the stability of the Gulf is critical to the global economy," the report said.

"However, the region faces a myriad of political and security challenges, from the Iranian nuclear programme to the threat of terrorism to the political crisis in Bahrain." The report also released precise figures for the US military presence in Kuwait for the first time. There are currently about 15,000 US forces in Kuwait, at Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Base and Camp Buehring.

The US had originally hoped to keep some troops in Iraq after the withdrawal in December, but talks to extend the presence of US troops collapsed last October with Baghdad and Washington unable to agree on granting US troops immunity from local prosecution.

Instead, the US now wants Kuwait to host a force of 13,500 troops to function as a staging hub, allowing the US military to move quickly from one location to another.

That force will form part of the some 40,000 troops that Leon Panetta, the US secretary of defence, has said that he foresees stationed in the region.

In parallel, the US is intending to draw down its military presence in Europe to 68,000 troops from about 80,000.

John Kerry, the chairman of the committee who asked for the study to be drawn up to assess US interests in the region, said that the US had to be "clear-eyed about what these interests are and how best to promote them". He said: "This report provides a thoughtful set of recommendations designed to do exactly that."

The report also sought to address how the US should respond to human-rights violations among its allies and concluded that Washington "should not be quick to rescind security assurances or assistance in response to human-rights abuses but should evaluate each case on its own merits".

The US resumed arms sales to Bahrain in April, after they were suspended last year following unrest in the country.